Soups warm the heart and soul

Michelle Appenzeller, the executive director of Hospice of Mercy, reminds attendees about the auction at Soup for the Soul. Enlarge photo


Michelle Appenzeller, the executive director of Hospice of Mercy, reminds attendees about the auction at Soup for the Soul.

Some fundraisers attract one core group of supporters. And then there is Hospice of Mercy, which attracts a broad spectrum of community members to its big fundraiser Soup for the Soul every year. The 2011 edition was held Wednesday night at the Exhibit Hall at the La Plata County Fairgrounds with a full house of more than 400 people of all ages. Virtually everyone has seen the value of hospice care when losing a friend or loved one, so it’s easy to understand why this event is so well-supported.

I usually include the menu so more people will go to an event the next year. This one tends to sell out early, so consider this item inspiration for readers to buy their tickets earlier next year so they won’t miss out. (A number of people had to be turned away at the door because there were no seats left.)

This event can claim some of the most delicious food in this foodie town. A number of restaurants and caterers pull out all the stops. (I must include a caveat here – I didn’t personally try every single item, but I did canvass the attendees, and pretty much everything got a rave review.)

Jimmy Nicholson’s Durangourmet prepared mulligatawny soup and these great artichoke hearts wrapped in prosciutto with lemon and truffle oil. Carver Brewing Co.’s beef posole was quite popular, as was its red-pepper bisque. Glacier Club brought its game with a yummy southern chicken and sausage gumbo, and a pancetta crisp with goat cheese and pear served in an endive leaf.

There was a long line at the Ore House, which offered one of the most delicious seafood appetizers I’ve ever had – king crab and king salmon fritters cooked fresh on a grill right in the Exhibit Hall and featuring general manager’s Ryan Lowe’s delicious honey-chipotle-dill-mustard tarter sauce. Oh, and the ribeye and potato stew they served looked pretty tasty, too.

Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Garden Terrace Café served up curried chicken pumpkin soup with rice, and Digs Market Café made a popular cream of broccoli with bacon. Christina’s Grill & Bar was in a Southeast Asia mood with Thai red curry soup – I loved it – and egg rolls.

Mahogany Grille – thanks, Dave Cuntz – presented Manhattan clam chowder and this incredible meld of flavors in an appetizer of seared beef with piquillo pepper and shallot jam on toast points. Rustin Newton stayed true to his Mutu’s Italian Kitchen’s roots with a grilled chicken and vegetable soup with potato gnocchi and mushrooms stuffed with garlic and herb cheese.

Norton’s Catering’s goodies, fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato and herb-crusted pork tenderloin crostini, along with lemon, brownie and pecan squares, looked like the ravening hordes had been there by the time I arrived, but having enjoyed them before, I know they were delicious. Alison Dance’s Cyprus Café lived up to its Mediterranean motif with curried carrot soup and spanakopita, and the Brickhouse Café’s split pea soup and brownies with caramel-pecan glaze were demolished before one could blink.

Season’s Rotisserie brought it’s popular pork posole, and The Palace Restaurant served its potstickers with sweet chili sauce and bruschetta sopressata with roasted red peppers.

Last, but far from least, the Red Snapper served a divine lobster bisque and smoked salmon carpaccio. Bread donated tons of bread; the Chip Peddler gave scads of chips; Durango Coffee Co. donated, well, you know; and the dessert sponsors left us with a sweet taste from the evening with dozens upon dozens of the DoubleTree Hotel’s famous chocolate-chip cookies and the Cosmopolitan’s passion fruit-coconut bars.

Locals enjoy their libations, so Steamworks Brewing Co. and Star Liquor took care of that end of things. Kirk James continued his generous tradition of providing live music for the evening.

There were a number of bright, personable young people serving, clearing tables and generally taking care of folks. Some were student ambassadors from Animas High School. Cathy Roberts brought members of the 4-H Rockin’ Riders, and a number of volunteers came from the Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center chipped in, too. Another group of volunteers handled a major silent auction that included trips to wine country in California and a beach vacation in Florida.

Steve Mathis, the president of the board of Mercy Health Foundation, was inspired last year when, in the space of five minutes, a supporter helped raise $3,600 in honor of the achievement of the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team going to the national Division II finals by agreeing to donate $300 if 10 other people would donate $300. (They got 11 generous donors.)

This year, Mathis himself agreed to donate $300 in honor of the late the Rev. Myron T. “Father Mike” Darmour, who was a key player 30 years ago in founding Hospice of Mercy, if 10 more people would match it. Hands were up before he finished talking.

Between live plants provided by Nature’s Roots and the 44 gorgeous floral arrangements organized by Cheryl Folwell, which were donated by all kinds of creative folks and sold at the end of the evening, the room looked pretty festive.

All told, between ticket proceeds, that matching challenge and silent auction funds, Soup for the Soul brought in more than $69,000 for Hospice of Mercy. I’ll have more later in the column about why that money is so important in supporting hospice’s work.

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Happy Aries birthday wishes go out to Mary Pye, Billie Mae Vance, Marty Sheppard, Jeremy Dugan, Barry Latham, BettyLoffer, Jacob Bourdon, Olivia Desso, Jack Kloepfer, PeterRudolph, Katie Kloepfer, Virginia Rohr, Linda Dunaway, ChrisVan Dyck, Shirley Drover, Mary Marugg, Dana Siekman, Joyce Watt, Michael Kevin Swinderman, RickKniffin, Ben Roberts, Paul Wainwright, Chip White, VickiArmstrong, Sheila Casey, Sunny Pulliam, Sue Cowan, the lovely Bette Hart, Niki Moore and Martha Simpson.

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As the obituary writer for The Durango Herald, I talk to people almost every day whose loved one died while receiving the care of Hospice of Mercy. Every single one of them is so grateful for the kindness, thoughtfulness and comfort that hospice staff and volunteers provided in those final days for their family member or friend and for they themselves and others left behind as they grieve their loss.

Insurance pays the bulk of the cost for those who have it, but many families can’t afford the co-pay or don’t have insurance at all. For Hospice of Mercy, which worked with 220 area residents in 2010 – Archuleta, La Plata and part of Montezuma counties are in its service area – it’s more important to provide care that allows people to prepare both emotionally and spiritually for death than it is to require payment, and that’s where we as a community come in, to fill the gap.

Handed out at Soup for the Soul, Hospice of Mercy’s big fundraiser of the year, was a hospice wish list, which makes it clear what it costs to provide dignified, loving care for people whose lives are coming to an end. One day of care costs $250; one day of chaplain services is $150; one family bereavement counseling session (an invaluable service) runs $75; and one Touch Love Compassion Comfort Package is $50. Also known as TLC, it’s a service I experienced while at Mercy Regional Medical Center several years ago, and it was terrific. It gives a true human touch.

Contributions are needed all year long. Donations of $250 or more may qualify for a 25 percent Colorado State Tax Credit because Mercy has been designated as an Enterprise Zone Project. (For example, donate $400 and deduct $100 right off the amount of taxes you owe the state next year.)

Make checks out to Mercy Health Foundation, with Hospice of Mercy on the memo line, and send them to 1010 Three Springs Blvd., Durango, CO 81301-9971; check out the website at; or call the foundation at 764-2800.

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Spring flowers are wondering if it’s safe yet to peek their heads out for the anniversaries of Bill and Tuula Bader, Terry and Sandy Hoel, Kermit and Karen Knudsen and Bob and Scattie McGrath.

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For information about upcoming events and fundraisers, check Local Briefs. Here’s how to reach me:; phone 375-4584; fax 259-5011; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items. If you are submitting an item for preview, please send it with briefs in the subject line and e-mail it to

Volunteer Sam Stewart opens a bottle of wine that was donated by Star Liquor during Soup for the Soul on Wednesday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. The event was a fundraiser to support the work of Hospice of Mercy. Enlarge photo


Volunteer Sam Stewart opens a bottle of wine that was donated by Star Liquor during Soup for the Soul on Wednesday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. The event was a fundraiser to support the work of Hospice of Mercy.